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Basic Polenta (and beyond)
Polenta is a cornmeal porridge that originated in Northern Italy. Soft polenta makes a wonderful side dish and can be served instead of mashed potatoes, rice, or pasta. Cooked polenta can also be transformed into bite-sized appetizers and colorful tart crusts that charm eyes and taste buds alike.
Recipe and photo by Esther Seha. Esther is a Chicago based activist educator and artistic baker. Find her on Instagram @baker.maker.shaker and at www.cakeandconversation.com .
- 1 cup (150g) Bloody Butcher Polenta or Golden Yellow Polenta or 1 cup (150g) Bloody Butcher Cornmeal or Golden Yellow Cornmeal
- 4 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- A sheet or baking pan (optional)
- Bring water to a boil in a medium or large saucepan. Add salt. Using a whisk, add polenta in a slow thin stream and whisk vigorously for about 1 minute. If you are using cornmeal, mix the cornmeal with some of the water before adding it to the saucepan. This will prevent the mixture from forming lumps.
- Cook over low heat until the polenta becomes tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Stir constantly to keep the polenta from sticking to the bottom of the pan. You can add water to soften the polenta or cook it for a bit longer to get a denser texture. Either way, you will get a great result! Let the polenta rest for a few minutes before using.
You can use either finely or coarsely ground cornmeal to make polenta, depending on your preference for a more or less textured final product. Finely ground cornmeal will make a smoother, creamier polenta. If you plan to turn your polenta into a crust or appetizers, use the coarser version as it holds together better and thus creates a more solid foundation for your toppings.
Terminology note: Polenta refers to the finished dish of cornmeal porridge The cornmeal you use may be a fine, medium, or coarse grind. However, in the U.S. "polenta" is often used to refer to an ingredient, the coarser grind of cornmeal, while "cornmeal" is reserved for the fine grind. Either one will make an excellent polenta!
Recipe ideas and flavor combinations
Here are a few points of inspiration and adaptation:
Replace part of the water with stock or milk for additional flavor and creaminess.
Add butter, olive oil, cheese (Parmesan is a good choice) and black pepper to the polenta before serving. You can also add fresh herbs such as basil, dill, marjoram or oregano.
If you serve the polenta as a main dish, consider serving it with sautéed vegetables or mushrooms.
Instead of serving it as porridge, you can scrape the polenta into an oiled dish or baking pan, let it cool and set, and then cut it into pieces to pan-fry, bake or grill and turn into bite-sized appetizers.
You may also make a crust for a polenta tart by scraping the porridge into a springform or tart pan and baking the crust for about 20 minutes at 375°F. Let the season and the contents of your fridge decide what the topping will be.
Like corn, polenta pairs well with all members from the Allium family as well as tomatoes, peppers, basil, cilantro, and dill. Salt, pepper, chili, smoked paprika, cumin, butter and cheeses such as Feta, Parmesan or Manchego are wonderful polenta companions as well.
You can make breakfast polenta by adding fruits, nuts, cinnamon and milk.
Posted on June 06 2022